The Weekly Round-Up #126 – The FCBD Edition With Sweet Tooth, Blue Estate, Epic Kill, Pigs & More

May is the best time of the year to be a comics fan, especially if you live in Toronto, as it’s the first week-end of that month that holds Free Comic Book Day and the Toronto Comic Arts Festival.    I picked up a fair sized pile of good stuff at TCAF, which I will be writing about in the coming weeks, as I work my way through it.  For my thoughts on Free Comic Book Day, scroll down below this week’s new comics that cost money.

Best Comic of the Week:

Sweet Tooth #33

by Jeff Lemire

With this issue of Sweet Tooth, Jeff Lemire returns to a technique he used in issue 18, and turns the comic sideways to paint a storybook-like comic which relies mostly on narration, with only a few instances of dialogue.

Lemire’s art, especially when painted in watercolours by Jose Villarrubia, is stunning throughout this comic.  I also found that the writing was more effective than usual in pulling out an emotional response, as many of the main characters of this series split into two camps.

The issue begins with Lucy’s funeral.  After that, Jeppard, Gus, Becky, Wendy, and the Fat Man, an old hockey buddy of Jeppard’s decide to continue their journey north to Alaska.  Johnny and Bobby decide to stay in the dam with the Evergreen people, although it’s not long before they are visited by some people they probably never would have wanted to see.

A surprisingly large chunk of the comic is given over to the traveling group singing in their car, and while that may seem strange, it does help to both continue the children’s book motif that Lemire is going for in this issue, and to remind the reader that many of the principal characters, despite being human/animal hybrids, are in fact children.

This issue makes clear how much I’ve come to like the characters of this series, and so I feel trepidation as they journey closer to finding the secrets of Gus’s birth, and the origins of the plague that has all but wiped out mankind.  This is a terrific series.

Other Notable Comics:

Blue Estate #11

Written by Viktor Kalvachev, Kosta Yanev, and Andrew Osborne
Art by Toby Cypress, Nathan Fox, Aleksi Briclot, and Peter Nguyen

I strongly believe that Blue Estate is one of the unsung great comics of the recent Image Renaissance.  This is a truly unique book, with a story and approach to art that is not done anywhere else.

This issue is the penultimate one of this ‘first season’, and all of the various plot threads that the writers have been laying out for some time are all beginning to intersect and collide throughout.  To give a summary of this book at this stage in the game is very difficult – basically, a whole whack of Russians and Italians have converged on a termite-infested house to blow each other away, and some of our heroes – alcoholic recently widowed actress Rachel Maddox, hapless private investigator Roy Blount Jr., useless mob son Tony Luciano, and recovering alcoholic assassin Clarence (also known as Johnny).

This is a much faster paced issue than we are used to, as much of the book is given over to people from the various groups try to shoot one another.  Rachel figures out that it was Clarence who killed her husband, and much woodwork gives way.

This is the first issue that does not have Viktor Kalvachev’s art in it, though he continues to serve as ‘art director’.  It looks like most of this issue was drawn by Cypress and Fox, although it can be very hard to tell who has done what with this comic, which is a big part of its appeal to me.

I’m pleased to hear that there are plans for a second season of Blue Estate, as I would miss this book.

Epic Kill #1

by Raffaele Ienco

I wasn’t going to bother with this new Image mini-series.  I’ve been more or less picking up each new series they’ve published lately, as they’ve been on fire, but the cover and concept of this one didn’t grab me.  Then I saw a few pages of art from this first issue at a convention a month or so back, and I thought that really I should give this a try, as I liked the look of it.

Unfortunately, I think that my first instincts were right when it comes to this project.  Epic Kill is about a young woman who is a notorious killer, who is in a mental institution with no memory of who she is or why she is there.  Over the course of this first comic, a guard tries to rape her and when she kills him, it brings back her memory of herself, just as a trio of gangsters come to kill her.  She escapes, and spends the rest of the issue on the run.  Eventually, in the most interesting part of the comic, we learn just how notorious she is.

I have a few problems with this comic.  The first is the blatant misogyny of many of the characters.  While in the institution, our killer and her fellow inmates are tossed into a shower in their underwear, where a shirtless guard hoses them down, saying, “Clean those holes for me.”  Really.

My second problem lies in the familiarity of the material.  The film pitch for this would basically be ‘Elektra: Assassin meets Kill Bill meets Killing Girl,’ but just not as good as any of those.  And I didn’t like Kill Bill at all.  There is no disputing that Ienco is a talented artist, but last page revelation aside, this project left me cold.

Pigs #7

Written by Nate Cosby and Ben McCool
Art by Breno Tamura and Will Sliney

I’m starting to doubt this book on a few levels.  First, while this comic is only a month late, anyone who has followed Ben McCool’s career in comics (his six issue series Choker took 26 months to complete; his six-issue Memoir had five issues in a year, and nothing has been published in five months) knows that he has some serious problems with keeping to timelines.  The credits of this issue list Will Sliney as drawing the ‘flashback’ scenes, which is a little misleading.  If we accept the scenes in the police station as being in the present, than the scenes at the prison, which look like they were drawn by Tamura, would be the flashbacks.

These are both minor quibbles – it’s only a month late, and credits get confused, but it points to a lack of attention to this title.  The first issue of this comic really grabbed me, with its story of a Russian sleeper cell having been planted in Cuba a generation ago, which finally gets reactivated.  When we saw the twist at the end of the first issue, which involves the woman in the police station and a President’s amputated body part, I was hooked.

The problem is, now the Russian being interrogated wants to start talking, but absolutely nothing in this issue points to a reason why.  It’s like the story for the next issue will need more exposition, so the writers decide it’s time for her to talk.

There are a lot of twists to this comic.  We don’t know what the sleepers’ mission is, or why they are targeting a particular neo-Nazi who is in prison.  We don’t know how the team moves from there to getting the President, or what they hope to accomplish.  All of this sounds interesting, but unlike a series like Morning Glories, which manages to heap on the mysteries and the human interest at the same time, I’m beginning to completely lose interest in these characters.

This book has a lot of potential, but it’s in danger of losing me, and quickly (well, as quickly as McCool is able to finish each issue).

Quick Takes:

Action Comics #9 – Now this is much more of what I expect from a Grant Morrison Superman comic.  This entire issue takes place on Earth 23, where Superman’s alter ego, Calvin Ellis, is the President of the United States.  The main story, beautifully drawn by Gene Ha, involves President Superman dealing with an incursion from another reality of a though-based Superman.  It’s a good story, with a very Morrison-ion plot.  The back-up, as Sholly Fisch tends to do with these back-ups, picks up the same themes, and simplifies them, while making them incredibly obvious.  It’s like the main story is the real book, and the back-ups are the ‘Superman for Dummies’ version, but with Cully Hamner drawing it, I’ll take it.

Animal Man #9 – Finally, we get an entire issue of Steve Pugh’s art in the same book where Jeff Lemire establishes that Grant Morrison’s legendary run on Animal Man, which included his own appearance, took place in the New 52 continuity, at least as a dream.  Buddy is traveling the Red, while his family is traveling America, trying to stay away from the Rot.  A very good issue, as Lemire uses a fair amount of exposition to try to make clear all that is happening to Buddy, and a fan-favourite British magician makes an appearance.

Avengers Vs. X-Men #3 – There’s still way too much silliness going on for me to take this comic very seriously, even when Ed Brubaker writes the first batch of realistic dialogue and not over-blown narration of the series.  When the book opens, the X-Men have surrendered, and Iron Man and Captain America are debating their next steps.  Finally, someone points out how similar things are to the Civil War situation, but then the Extinction Team disappears, and suddenly there are five possible places where Hope has gone, so everyone splits up, and starts looking for her.  The plot leaves many questions unanswered, such as what happened to all the non-Extinction Team residents of Utopia (and the prison that Danger runs), and why Rachel would be conflicted about the Phoenix Force.  I would think that she’d have some very clear opinions about all of this.  Romita’s art is not as awful this issue, as he doesn’t have to cram quite as many characters in each panel.  Also, this AR stuff once again does not impress.

Avengers Academy #29 – Well, this answered one of my questions from above, as some of the Utopian X-kids are placed in ‘protective custody’ at the Avengers Academy.  The usual characters of this book try to make them feel welcome, with mixed results.  Some of the characterizations felt off, and Tom Grummett’s art made some of the scenes which should have worked, like the one between Finesse and X-23, rather awkward.  In a couple of scenes, there is a fish-boy X-character, but I have no idea who he is supposed to be.  Any thoughts on that?  Also, I can’t really see the Cuckoos being okay with being left behind…  Still, the first couple of pages, which feature Hercules, are worth buying the book for; they really made me realize how much I missed his title.

Daredevil #12 – I’m always happy to see Chris Samnee’s name on a new comic, as he draws this comic, which tells the story of how Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson became friends.  It’s kind of an odd choice for an issue of this series, even when it’s being told furthers the relationship between Matt and ADA Kirsten McDuffie.  Waid can do no wrong with this book, but the fact that the last issue came out last week is kind of annoying.

Defenders #6 – It’s taken six issues, but what Matt Fraction has been doing with this comic is finally clear, and as it picks up on some of the better elements of his run on Iron Fist, is actually pretty interesting.  We finally learn what the mysterious engines are, and that their existence was previously uncovered by Orson Randall, Iron Fist’s predecessor.  Unfortunately, this knowledge causes some of the Immortal Weapons to lose their lives, as John Aman fights to protect the engines’ secrets.  This book just saved itself from getting dropped off my pull-list.

Dial H #1 – Aside from Batman Incorporated, this is the title of all the ‘Second Wave’ of the New 52 that I am most excited about, although it’s hard to pinpoint why exactly.  The writer, China Miéville is new to me, but I do like the artist, Mateus Santalouco, who has worked on American Vampire and the graphic novel Mondo Urbano.  The biggest draw is probably Brian Bolland’s cover, which evokes the best of Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol (the character of Boy Chimney looks like he would have fit in with the Brotherhood of Dada).  The comic is pretty good.  It stars Nelson Jent, an overweight unemployed loser who is recovering from a heart attack.  He argues with his friend, and then chases after him to make amends.  The thing is, his friend is a mobster, and is getting a beating at the time.  When Nelson tries to call for help on a payphone that is inconveniently set up in an alley, he instead is turned into Boy Chimney, who fights off the thugs.  Later, attempting to transform again, Nelson is turned into Captain Lachrymose, and equally Morrison-esque character.  I like the set up here, and I like that Nelson has the most in common with the people I see at comic-cons of any hero in the business.  Miéville’s writing may be a little unclear in parts, but I see some serious potential in this comic, and I want to stick around and watch it develop.

Earth 2 #1 – I came into this book not even wanting to like it.  I love the Justice Society, and I’ve been annoyed that DC erased them from existence in the New 52, and then in bringing them back decided to shunt them off to an Earth 2 where the book appeared to be headlined by Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman.  Then I read the comic, and I really kind of loved it.  It’s hard to talk about this comic without giving away some of the great moments in it, but the Trinity, and their two peripherals (Robin and Supergirl) aren’t likely to appear in future issues, and we are instead introduced to Alan Scott, Jay Garrick, Al Pratt, and Jim Harper, before any of them become heroes.  It looks like Robinson is rebuilding the JSA from the very beginning, but on an Earth that is very different from ours.  Nicola Scott is brilliant, and I’ll definitely be coming back for the next issue.  Damn it.

Exiled #1 – While all the attention is on Avengers Vs. X-Men, the mutant crossover I’m enjoying the most right now is Exiled, a pairing of Journey Into Mystery and the New Mutants (I really only like crossovers when they are between two books I’m already reading).  The New Mutants discover a strange neighbour who has a connection to the Disir, the ancient evil that terrifies the Norse gods.  Kieron Gillen writes well with Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, and this one-shot, which launches the whole event feels like it is perfectly balanced between the two books.  Very good stuff.

Invincible Iron Man #516 – Since Matt Fraction starting writing this title a few years ago, he’s been building towards this one story, and it’s coming together rather nicely, as Tony has to face (or at least act like he’s facing) the fact that the Hammers, the Mandarin, and Ezekiel Stane have defeated him.  Fraction’s never been afraid to show Stark being a jerk, as once again he alienates the Avengers.  Also, after a long period of speculation, the identity of the Spymaster is revealed.  This is good stuff.

Stormwatch #9 – A pretty good beginning to Peter Milligan’s run on this title means that I will probably be putting it back on my pull-list.  I really liked Paul Cornell’s time on this title, but I also am interested in where Milligan is going to take this book.  I like that he is interested in exploring some of the mysteries of the group, and the Shadow Lords who apparently run them.  The character of the Vitruvian Man made me think of Jonathan Hickman’s Shield series, but the way Milligan used one of the Red Lanterns to further the plot worked very well.

Swamp Thing #9 – This month’s issue of Swamp Thing is another very quick read, but one with some lasting implications for the series.  Alec works to free Abby from the influence of the Rot, and this leads to some big changes for that character, and the teased return of a classic Swamp Thing villain.  This is another gorgeous issue, as Yannick Paquette and Marco Rudy split the issue in half, but both fill it with gorgeous double-page spreads and splash pages that eschew typical story layout.  Their work on this book has been wonderful, and I’m really pleased to see both artist on each issue lately, as I wouldn’t want to choose between them for preferred status on this book.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #10 – With this issue, Brian Michael Bendis remembers that the more character driven this title is, the better it works, as Miles appears on every page.  His uncle, the Prowler, is doing what he can to manipulate Miles into helping him take care of his problems with the Scorpion, but Miles’s inherent goodness makes him suspicious of the situation.  Bendis is at his best when he avoids the urge to fill every page with clever dialogue, and instead lets the story dictate the flow.  David Marquez is a very good alternative to Sara Pichelli.

Worlds’ Finest #1 – Here is another comic that I basically expected nothing from, and then was very surprised by when I read it.  This book needs to be read after Earth 2, and it stars the two characters that were expelled from that world through an interdimensional boom tube, or something like one.  The Earth 2 Supergirl and Robin have been trapped on the main DCnU for a while now, and Helena Wayne has adopted the guise of the Huntress (who, apparently, is dead), while Karen Starr has worked at acquiring technology to get them both home.  Now, some random villain has attacked Starr’s newest lab, and she thinks it’s time to become a hero again.  There’s some nice character work here from Paul Levitz, who has been a source of serious disappointment over the last few years as he’s run Legion of Super-heroes into the ground.  George Perez and Kevin Maguire, who trade art duties, bot do an excellent job.  I don’t see a lot of long-term life in this book, but I’ll probably pick up the next issue.

X-Factor #235 – X-Factor has found its feet again, as we get an excellent comic.  Someone is killing ‘superheroes’ in Seattle – not the powered kind, but the powerless Phoenix Jones wannabe types, and Madrox and Shatterstar go undercover to investigate (which in Shatterstar’s case, involves wearing 90s Liefeld headgear) after Madrox and Havok engage in a bit of a pissing match about how their new partnership is going to work.  Good stuff.

X-O Manowar #1 – When Valiant Comics first came on the scene back in the day, I bought all of their titles, at least for a couple of years, and have fond memories of many of them.  Now, there is a new Valiant, and this is the first of their relaunches.  The new X-O Manowar, written by Robert Venditti, who wrote Surrogates, is staying very faithful to the original, but is taking its time in setting up the character and situation.  Aric of Dacia is involved in a great battle between his people, the Visigoths, and the Roman Empire in the early 5th century.  After losing a battle, and having his wife taken from him, Aric leads a group of scouts to attack some Romans, who end up being aliens.  Aric is taken off the planet, and plots escape.  The armor is introduced in this issue, but it’s not in Aric’s possession yet.  Cary Nord is a great artist, so this book looks very good.  I enjoyed this issue, but I’m not sure that I enjoyed it enough to buy the second one; I’ll have to see.

Comics I Would Have Bought if They Weren’t $4:

Amazing Spider-Man #685

Bulletproof Coffin Disinterred #4

Wolverine and the X-Men: Alpha and Omega #5

X-Men #28

Free Comic Book Day Stuff:

I always find Free Comic Book Day to be pretty mixed.  Some publishers give away short previews of upcoming books, which may whet new readers’ whistles, but when those new books or stories are months away, there is little chance of drawing in someone new who isn’t used to the way that comics operate.  Other publishers give you original material, with a complete story to it, and that’s what I like.  I got a huge pile of comics this year (respect to the fine people at One Million Comix, who were very generous in their offerings) but am probably only going to comment on some of them.  Others will be given to kids I know.

Atomic Robo Plus Neozoic and Bonnie Lass – I like Atomic Robo, even though I don’t buy it.  It’s a fun comic, but the disjointed storytelling of its longer arcs tends to annoy me.  This is a fun story for the kids, with futuristic dinosaurs and Hadron Supercolliders.  The other two stories offered here did nothing for me.

Bad Medicine #1

Written by Nunzio DeFilippis, Christina Weir and Antony Johnston
Art by Christopher Mitten

Of all the publishers that participate in Free Comic Book Day, I think it’s Oni Press that has best figured out how to make the day a viable one.  Two years ago, they used FCBD to debut their series The Sixth Gun, guaranteeing that unique and wonderful series a much wider audience than it would have gotten otherwise.  Last year, they did the same thing for Spontaneous, a terrific mini-series about spontaneous human combustion.  I probably would have picked up both of these comics anyway, but I appreciated being given the opportunity to sample the series for free in a meaningful way (instead of just being given a couple of story pages and some character sketches).

This year, they’ve done the same thing, with the first issue of Bad Medicine, a new mini-series by the team of Nunzio DeFilippis, Christina Weir, and Christopher Mitten.  DeFilippis and Weir have written a few graphic novels together, and are probably still best known for their very good revitalization of the New Mutants a ways back.  Christopher Mitten has worked with them before on Past Lies and The Tomb, as well as on the long-running Oni series Wasteland with Antony Johnston.

Bad Medicine is a medical thriller.  A corpse is discovered in a scientific laboratory, and it appears to have been decapitated.  Soon though, it is discovered that the victim’s head is intact and attached to the body, it’s just invisible. As you can imagine, this leads to all sorts of problems for the detective on the case, Joely Huffman.  She has few leads, except for the name of a doctor who left the profession five years ago, after causing the death of one of his patients.  He has spent these five years on a ‘walkabout’, researching alternative and bizarre approaches to healing.  He has something to do with all of this, and is eager to help.  As well, there is an pair of CDC scientists involved, who have a bit of a love/hate relationship going on.

There is plenty to like here, as DeFilippis and Weir lay down the groundwork for their series.  Mitten’s art is always nice, and is always much easier to follow in colour.  Wisely, Oni have solicited the next issue of this series for next month (previously, they waited until after FCBD to continue their series, leaving a large gap between issues that may not have capitalized on their wider audiences).

This issue also has a Wasteland short by Antony Johnston and Mitten.  It appears to be set either just after the current storyline, or before Micheal and Abi ran in to the Dog Tribe a ways back, as it has the two of them traveling together and finding an injured man in a ravine.  It’s a bleak story, but it helps to demonstrate the aesthetic of this wonderful series.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer/The Guild The Buffy story, which is just as much an Aliens story, set on Spike’s bugship is cute, but I can’t imagine any fans of the TV show understanding what’s going on.  I read the whole of the Season Eight series, and I’m still kind of confused about why Spike has a spaceship full of talking bugs.  The Guild story, on the other hand, was great, as a Guild brawl to pick the next location of the team’s off-line meeting ends with them having to go to the beach.  Felicia Day’s writing is great, and while Jonathan Case’s art isn’t perfect, it works.

DC Comics – The New 52 #1 – I’m sure this short preview of an upcoming DC crossover or event called The Trinity War excited a lot of fans, but it left me dry.  I haven’t been reading Justice League, so some of this wasn’t all that clear.  I did like the way in which the Phantom Stranger and The Question have been introduced to the DCnU, but I don’t understand why Pandora and Judas would be judged at the same time by the wizards that live in the Rock of Eternity, seeing as they lived in completely different times (and I’m not sure who the Question is supposed to be).  Still, if you like Geoff Johns’s writing, and you get excited by things like a four-page Jim Lee fold out, I’m sure this comic would have made you happy.

Dinosaurs Vs. Aliens – This is another preview comic, giving us a few finished pages of the upcoming graphic novel, and some character sketches, script pages, and other behind-the-scenes stuff that some people must like, because comics companies keep making them (or maybe it’s just that every comic company wishes it was a film studio, and people seem to like the DVD extras that I always skip).  Anyway, this comic company is basically a film studio, as this graphic novel is based on an idea by Barry Sonnenfeld, but written by Grant Morrison.  The art, by Mukesh Singh is stunning.  This is a story about aliens who try to settle a world where dinosaurs run wild.  Apparently, the whole thing can be read as a metaphor for the European colonization of the Americas (which is perhaps why the dinosaurs look vaguely Aztec), but in some ways, that comparison is kind of insulting.  Still, this looks like it will be an interesting book (and inevitably a crappy 3D movie).

Graphic Elvis – This has to be just about the weirdest thing I’ve ever read.  Stan Lee writes a short story about Elvis at the gates to heaven, thinking that he isn’t good enough to gain entry.  The art is all Kirbyesque, and Elvis is thin and young, although when he died he was neither.  Utterly bizarre, but there’s some nice pin-ups by the likes of Paul Pope, John Cassaday, and Steve Rude.  Strange…

Hypernaturals – Boom does FCBD right, giving us a complete ‘0’ issue for Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s upcoming series The Hypernaturals.  This reads like a cross between the Legion of Super-Heroes and Strikeforce: Morituri, as a new version of a 100-year old superhero team gets cut down on one of their first missions.  D’n’A lay the groundwork of what could be an interesting series, although the art could be a little more dynamic.

Image 20 – Image’s offering for FCBD is a collection of previews of six current and upcoming series, none of which I was intending to buy.  So, did it change my mind for any of them?  I liked Tim Seeley and Mike Norton’s Revival the best; I’ll definitely pick up the first issue of that.  The Crime and Terror story was not very meaty, but I do like Scott Morse’s art, so maybe I’ll give that a try.  Most surprising was the preview scene from Near Death, a comic that I have ignored to date.  G-Man did nothing for me, and I’m skeptical of both Guarding the Globe and It-Girl and the Atomics, simply because they are creator-owned titles not being done by the people who created them.

Mouse Guard, Labyrinth, and Other Stories – Archaia takes the prize for the most attractive and well-designed FCBD offering, with their hardcover selection of six stories for kids.  None of these are really my thing, but I did enjoy Petersen’s Mouse Guard story, even if I think it’s a little odd to have a comic book depiction of a marionette show – part of what makes comics so cool is that you aren’t limited by the dictates of form in quite the way you are in other forms of storytelling, like, say, a puppet show.

Star Wars/Serenity – Both of the stories in this comic were written by Zack Whedon.  The Star Wars one, drawn by Davidé Fabbri is a good-enough Han Solo and Chewbacca story about the dangers of smuggling.  The Serenity story is the gem of this book though, as Mal Reynolds finds himself beset upon by a guy who wants to buy his ship, and won’t take no for an answer.  This comic is drawn by the fantastic Fábio Moon (who I was lucky enough to meet at TCAF), who is able to capture the likenesses of the characters and still draw in his usual style.  I would be very happy to learn that he and Whedon were working on a new Serenity/Firefly project.

The Ride/Anti – I can never really get in to 12-Gauge comics.  They look like they should work for me, but they always fall short.  The Ride is by Nathan Edmondson and Paul Azaceta, so it’s dark and cool, but it’s too short.  The Anti story just doesn’t work for me.

Valiant Comics – As I’d already read the X-O Manowar comic this week, I skipped the preview of it, and instead read the couple of pages of Harbinger, which is the Valiant relaunch I’m most interested in because of Joshua Dysart’s involvement.  It looks nice, as do the other titles coming up, but that’s mostly because they have David Aja doing the designs, although he won’t be drawing the actual comics.  As a FCBD offering though, I think this is a bit of a failure, as there’s nothing to walk away with except a vague idea of what to expect from these upcoming comics.

Bargain Comics:

Elektra Assassin #1-8

Written by Frank Miller
Art by Bill Sienkiewicz

I’m more than a little embarrassed to admit that I’ve never read Miller and Sienkiewicz’s classic Epic comics mini-series Elektra: Assassin.  In my defense, I was eleven at the time it began, but was already a fan of Miller’s writing on Daredevil and Sienkiewicz’s crazy work on New Mutants.  I don’t remember why I didn’t read this book then (probably because I was a dumb kid), or why I never got around to reading it since.

This is a pretty insane comic.  The comic opens with Elektra institutionalized in San Concepcion, a small South American country that appears to be more or less run by the United States.  Within a short amount of time, she has escaped, assassinated an American ambassador, infiltrated a SHIELD base where work on creating cyborg agents is done, and has more or less exerted control over the mind of Dan Garrett, a SHIELD agent with a dubious past.

This comic has all sorts of things going on.  There is a devilish Beast who controls a Democratic Presidential hopeful (only in the 80s would it be the Democrats who are devilish), cyborg psychopaths, cloned blue dwarves, ninja, weirdly-shaped helicopters, big hair, and lots and lots of stream-of-consciousness text boxes.

It feels like Miller used this series to try out some new techniques and ideas about comics writing.  I’m not sure just how successful it was in terms of story, but this is the type of comic that gets judged more as an experience than as a linear story.  Sienkiewicz is at the absolute top of his game with this book.  His art is very 80s (just look at the character of Chastity McBryde), but also incredibly inventive and exciting.

This is a canonical comic, even if it doesn’t get discussed as much as Miller’s other work.

Tongue Lash #1 & 2

Written by Randy and Jean-Marc Lofficier
Art by Dave Taylor

I often rely on serendipity and chance when cruising through bargain bins.  Recently, among a trove of Dark Horse mini-series sets of the last fifteen years (lots of licensed comics, lots of Mignola), I came across this two-issue mini-series, which I could tell nothing about except for its price (very reasonable).  I googled it on my phone, and learned that it was was written by Randy and Jean-Marc Lofficier, a pair of French comics writers best known in North America for their translations of and work with the recently late Jean Giraud, Moebius.

Fame by association works for me, and I remember enjoying the Lofficier’s work on The Elsewhere Prince, a Moebius spin-off that I read many years ago.  Continuing this connection, upon opening the first comic, I read that the series was “inspired” by the works of Moebius, which was instantly apparent from Dave Taylor’s art.

Tongue Lash is a science-fiction detective novel, set in a weirdly Aztec future.  Our heroes, Tonge and Lash, are private investigators, who are hired by a wealthy young woman to investigate the prostitute that her powerful father has fallen in love with.  There’s a lot more going on that than though, in this story that involves human/animal hybrids, the ability to shunt into metatime, and a system of slavery or indentured servitude.  Nothing is really explained, and the reader is left to his or her own devices to figure out what’s going on, and what the many Aztec (or Aztec-like) terms sprinkled throughout the dialogue mean.

It’s not hard to imagine why this series was never collected into a trade, as it’s a challenging read, and ultimately more strange than compelling.  It is very pretty though, and Taylor really pushed himself to design some very unique images in this bizarre world.  I liked the series, but I feel like I probably missed a lot, and Taylor’s lettering just annoyed me.

Wolverine #301 & 302 – Jason Aaron is filling his last arc on this title with as much mayhem as he can manage, as the Hand goes to war with the Yakuza, and somehow Logan, his ex-girlfriend Yukio, his daughter Amiko, the son of the Silver Samurai, Mystique, and Sabretooth (unfortunately) are all involved.  There’s a lot to keep track of, and the alternating art team of Phillip Tan and Steve Sanders don’t exactly go well together, but it is all kind of fun.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Shazam! The Greatest Stories Ever Told

Written by Bill Parker, Joe Simon, Otto Binder, Denny O’Neil, Elliot S! Maggin, Roy Thomas, Julius Schwartz, Gil Kane, Joey Cavalieri, Alan Grant, Barry Kitson, Jerry Ordway, and Steve Vance
Art by CC Beck, Jack Kirby, Kurt Schaffenberger, Curt Swan, Bob Oksner, Gil Kane, Barry Kitson, Peter Krause, Dick Giordano, John Delaney, and Ron Boyd

I’ve never really been a fan of Captain Marvel, although I did enjoy his stint with the Justice League back in the Giffen/DeMatteis days.  I know he has a fairly solid fan base, and has not ever really been given much of a chance as part of the regular DC Universe, as there is little for him to do that can’t be accomplished just as well by Superman.  I also know that he is due for a major revamping, and when I saw this trade for only a dollar, I figured it was worth checking out, to see if I could at least understand the character’s appeal to so many.

It didn’t really work though.  The Golden Age stories, by people like Binder, Beck, Simon, and Kirby are quaint, but don’t have the edge to them that a lot of Golden Age comics have.  Denny O’Neil’s attempt to revive the character after DC bought out the Fawcett line, where Cap was originally published, is fine I guess, but not too special.

I did like the DC Comics Presents Annual, which has the Supermen of Earths 1 and 2 teaming up with Captain Marvel, but that was probably mostly because of the Gil Kane art.  The only story that gave me a sense of nostalgia is the edited-down issue of LEGION ’91, which has Cap fighting Lobo, during some big crossover or another (War of the Gods, I think).  I loved that old LEGION title, and was thrilled to read something with Telepath, one of the weirder characters DC ever had, again.  Too bad there was so much Lobo in it, but that was the problem with that title in the early 90s exactly.

In selecting the stories for this book, I think the editors did well to pick so many of the Binder/Beck classics.  I did think it odd that the LEGION story was included, and that the story chosen to represent Jerry Ordway and Peter Krause’s long-running The Power of Shazam was so maudlin and ‘after school special’.  I also thought it odd that Black Adam was completely missing from this collection – he’s by far the most interesting part of the Marvel Family story.  At the same time, I appreciate that there were no Talky Tawny stories.

Album of the Week:

Hawthorne Headhunters – Myriad of Now

This is a nice post-Dilla hip-hop album from Black Spade and Coultrain.  It has some very nice beats.  There’s not much more to say than that.

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